Saint of the Day – 9 May – St Gregory Nazianzen (330-390) Archbishop of Constantinople, Father and Doctor of the Church, Confessor, Theologian, Philosopher, Orator, Poet, Writer, he is remembered as the “Trinitarian Theologian.” He is widely considered one of the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. Along with his great friends and colleagues, the brothers St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers. The Cappadocia region, in modern-day Turkey, was an early site of Christian activity, with several missions by St Paul in this region. The Cappadocians advanced the development of early Christian theology, for example the doctrine of the Trinity and are highly respected as “Great” Fathers of the Church.
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: “At Naziazus, the birthday of St Gregory, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, surnamed “The Theologian” because of his remarkable knowledge of divinity. At Constantinople, he restored the Catholic Faith, which was fast waning and repressed the rising heresies.”
St Gregory Nazianzen (330-390) Bishop, Father and Doctor of the Church
By Fr Francis Xavier Weninger, SJ (1805-1888)
St Gregory who, on account of his great knowledge in Sacred science, is surnamed the Theologian, was born at Nazianzum, in the year c 300. His father, whose name was also Gregory, his mother, Nonna, his brother Caesarius and Gorgonia, his sister, are all honoured as Saints. At Athens, where St. Gregory devoted himself to study, he became acquainted with St Basil the Great, who had made his home there with the same intention. They became most intimate friends, as both were virtuous and diligent. They secluded themselves from all frivolous young men, shunned gaming, idleness, and other vices of youth, cultivating only piety and knowledge. They knew of only two roads, one of which led to school, the other to Church.
After having finished his studies, Basil returned to his home but Gregory remained and studied eloquence, in which he was, in after years, unsurpassed. At that time also, Julian studied at Athens, who afterwards became Emperor and was called the Apostate. In regard to the manners and behaviour of this prince, Gregory said at that time; “Oh what a monster the Roman Empire nourishes in its bosom!” At the same time he predicted, that if Julian should ever wear the imperial crown, he would become the great enemy and persecutor of Christendom, which unhappily became true.
After several years, Gregory left Athens and returned to his native place. One day, while studying, he was overtaken by sleep and it appeared to him that he saw two beautiful virgins, who came as if wishing to speak to him. He asked who they were and what they desired. “One of us,” they answered, “is chastity, the other wisdom. God has sent us to be your friends and remain constantly with you.” His life proved that this vision was no empty dream. Gregory preserved his chastity inviolable and was endowed by the Almighty with such wisdom, that on account of it, he became celebrated throughout the whole world. Great men, among whom was St Jerome, often travelled many miles to hear him speak.
Having been Ordained Priest, he went secretly toBasil, who had retired to the desert of Pontus. There they lived in the greatest harmon, but, at the same time, in the greatest rigour occupied only in prayer and in studying the holy Scriptures.
After the lapse of some years, Gregory returned again to his home, to bring back to the True Faith, his father who, not out of wickedness,but out of simplicity and ignorance, had been deluded by the Arians. Gregory happily extricated him from his error …
Meanwhile Basil became Bishop of Caesarea and most earnestly requested Gregory to take the small bishopric of Sasima, as the far spreading heresy demanded a strong opposition. Gregory allowed himself to be prevailed upon and accepted the See. When, however, another one came who asserted that the office was his, he gave place to him and retired. They wished him afterwards to take charge of the church at Nazianzum but he arranged matters in such a manner, that they chose someone else.
He, however, did not succeed so well in Constantinople. He had gone thither to oppose the heretics, who had filled the whole city with their poison, to defend the Catholic faith and teach its doctrines to the people. After he had laboured there some time with great success, Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, nominated him Bishop of Constantinople and Gregory was obliged to take this heavy burden. All his thoughts were now directed to exterminate heresy and to restore the ancient prestige of the Church.
The Catholics had, at that time, only one Church where they assembled, the heretics having taken possession of all the others. Gregory, however, so brought it about that the newly chosen Emperor Theodosius came himself to Constantinople and gave the Cathedral back to the Catholics, although the heretics opposed it with all their power. This enraged the latter to such a degree that they hired a villain to assassinate the Bishop. The Saint was sick in bed when the murderer came under the pretext of visiting him. As he, however, was alone with him and, therefore, had every opportunity of committing the crime, God suddenly changed his heart, and falling at the feet of the Saint, he confessed his wicked intention and asked forgiveness. The Saint said; “May God, Who protected me, forgive you. I ask you nothing but that you forsake your heresy.”
Much more had he to suffer from the heretics but it in no wise slackened his zeal. The Catholics also gave him just cause of complaint.
Among the Bishops assembled in Council, a dispute arose, concerning the validity of Gregory’s election. The Saint represented to them, that he had not in any manner sought the office but that it had been forced upon him against his desire. Perceiving, however, that all were not satisfied with his explanation and fearing that the peace of the Church might be materially endangered, to the detriment of the whole Christian community, he arose and addressed the assemblage in the following manner:
“Dear colleagues and joint-shepherds of the flock of Christ, it would be very unbecoming to your dignity, should you, whose office it is to exhort others to peace, become disunited among yourselves. Am I the cause of your discord? Behold, I am not better than the prophet Jonas; cast me, therefore, into the sea and the tempest will be calmed. Although I am innocent of your charges, I will suffer without a murmur, that unanimity may be restored among you.”
after having thus spoken calmly and sweetly, he took leave of all present and went to the Emperor, whom he acquainted with his resolution to leave Constantinople. The Emperor, at first refused his consent but the Saint knew so well how to represent to him his reasons, that he at last gave him the desired permission.
He immediately made all the necessary preparations for his departure but once more ascended the pulpit of his Episcopal Church and in a last discourse, took leave of all the assembled faithful, as also of all the other Churches, hospitals and asylums of the city. To those who had frequently complained of his sermons because he unhesitatingly denounced their vices, he said: “Now joyfully clap your hands and cry that the bad, talkative tongue will cease to strike you; yes, it will cease but the hand still remains and pen and ink must in future sustain the combat.” Finally, he admonished them all to lead a Christian life and concluded his sermon with these words: “I exhort you, my dear children, to keep my instructions in your hearts. May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, remain with you all. Amen!“
How deeply affected all his hearers were, was plainly perceived by their tears and their emotion. Well had they reason to be grieved, for they had possessed in Gregory a most tender father for their needy widows and orphans, an invincible protector of their faith, a teacher whom God had gifted with unusual wisdom, a careful, never weary pastor and almost perfect model of all virtue. They tried in every possible way to prevent his leaving but he was not to be persuaded to change his resolution but went on board the ship, which was ready to set sail and returned to his home.
On his arrival, he settled himself upon his parental estate, with the intention of then passing the remainder of his life in solitude and in the exercise of virtue.
This intention he carried out and prayers and devout meditation were his greatest comfort, until, failing health owing to excessive labour, besides old age and sickness, kept him for the greater part of the time in bed. Sometimes, however, he took the pen in hand and wrote several works to confute the doctrine of the heretics and to strengthen and confirm the Catholics. God permitted that the holy man, who had lived until now so piously and pure a life, should endure most fearful temptations from the Evil One. Constant calling on God, austere fasting, prayers, reading devout books and severe study, were the weapons he used against the enemy of man and he always conquered. The Most High also permitted that some men, envious and devoid of conscience, should calumniate the Saint everywhere and even falsely accuse him of some great crimes, to the Bishop of Tianea. The holy man was not angry but, while defending his honour, prayed God to bestow His grace upon his enemies and to pardon them.
Omitting much that might still be related of this great Saint, I will only mention one instance of his solicitude to avoid sin and to do penance. He thought that he had spoken in a certain affair more than was necessary and punished himself by remaining forty days without uttering a single word to anyone!
At length he expired happily, in the 90th year of his age, having laboured and suffered much for the honour of the Almighty and the protection of the True Church. Praise be to God! Amen.